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The Artist's Way: Walking in This World (Week One)

Week One of my venture through 'Walking in This World' - the twelve-week sequel to 'The Artist's Way'.
Infinity Foods (Brighton)

I’ve been so consumed with getting my blog ignited (and readjusting to the return to preschool routine, etc.) that I completely missed the window to tell anyone that I had commenced the reknowned twelve-week course of ‘The Artist’s Way’ - something I have owned for at least a decade, and never gotten past the first week. Though yes, I am yet another writer giving this a go, I do believe there is good reason to work through this journey. As I have written about last week, it has been mostly a recent thing that I’ve pursued my writing in any real depth; that I’ve spent the majority of the last eight years spreading myself between working in exhausting office jobs just to get by, and becoming a parent. It took me to hit some serious lows, to finally stop and question what it is that I’m even passionate about anymore - what lit me up (and from there, of course, I acknowledged how writing has been a constant thread between all of my major life events, and all the mundane, everyday moments in-between). So, with this recent exploration of my writing, it seemed a good fit to borrow the structure of the Artist’s Way to help me through (and, ironically, I also have twelve weeks until the summer holiday break). For this period, I’m aiming at writing my weekly round-up of the course and sharing it here, in the hope that it may help other writers or creatives feeling stuck, to see my own journey uncovered. To add an extra spin on this, I’ve also chosen to work through the more nature-themed (and perhaps less well-known) version of TAW, via my copy of ‘Walking in This World’ - which is a sequel. To touch on that lightly here, in addition to the two main artist’s ‘tools’ of this course (’The Artist’s Date’ and ‘The Morning Pages’), there is also an ‘Artist’s Walk’ - which helps me not only to work though my writing process, but also my anxiety around walking (both of these two things, being what I am most drawn to develop in my life currently).

I started Week One with my Artist’s Walk, which was actually a spontaneous walk rather than a planned one (one I am eager to compare, over this course) - which I wrote about here. It was so enlivening, to walk a (mostly urban) route with a new friend - to get to know someone at the same time as learning the local streets and environment better. This dual-journey was a perfect reflection of my dive into this dual-course (writing and walking), and one that opened new opportunities by way of meeting someone who wanted to walk again - something I had been missing in terms of helping me build my confidence in my own solo journeys - companionship, or community (a theme you will see, weaving its way through almost all of my writing - something so important to me). I note that Julia Cameron states to take a twenty-minute walk, and I found this a really good initiation, and pressure-reliever - to know that during weeks that I may be more time-constrained, or generally battling with lethargy or anxiety, I need only walk for ten minutes from my door, and then walk the same amount back home again. Often, when I walk through the initial resistance to walking alone, I can settle into more comfortability (I actually spent most of the lockdown last year developing this, to then collapse to the confines of more restrictions and a particularly cold, long winter). My walk this week was probably at least twice that suggestion in time, and I think around an hour is my ‘sweet spot’ right now in terms of overcoming my nerves and relaxing into a rhythm, pace, and my surroundings - meeting nature and opening myself to the gift of so many sights, sounds, smells, etc.

Though I had actually neglected the Morning Pages on that first day (I had written some notes on my phone), I ensured that I did complete at least thirty minutes of writing almost every other day that week - as someone who is suffering a lot with sleep issues (and being the sole person responsible for night wake-ups with my son currently), I have given myself permission not to force myself up any earlier than I wake - which is often around 6/6:30am. I do understand that the whole concept is to wake before everyone else and take that time to really ‘brain dump’, but it just does not fit into my life (or my health, I should probably say) as it stands. Instead, I’ve stolen the twenty minutes or so of my son eating breakfast by sitting alongside him, with my journal - not a particularly inspirational writer’s setup, writing next to children's radio and being asked for more cereal every few minutes - but its how I work this right now. I’ve actually always been an early morning person - waking with an energy that is unparalleled to my energy slump by 3pm, and after reading ‘Morning: How to Make Time’ last year, I am wistful to reconnect to some quiet space to write or just sit, in the blue morning light, sometime in the near future - something I’m sure I will document in itself eventually. As time goes on and my son grows, I know that this time will become more available (and this is also where parenting and perhaps some areas of gender politics come into the debate - in terms of my parenting role, the expectations of me, and gaining the support around me to help claim some of this ‘energy time’ for my own work). The way my brain can process something I’m reading, or the smoothness of my writing, is just unmatchable in the mornings. I usually have a lot of brain-fog and general exhaustion, by the afternoon - I’m not one for celebrating the exhausted writer who stays up until 2am. I love going to bed, I crave a better relationship with sleep, and I am desperate to taste the fresh turn of morning air, to feel the coolness of the dawn on my face, and not be responsible for cereal or Pirates or hide and seek as soon as my eyes have opened. It will come in time, I know - and I really do cherish my son’s smile when I wake; to cuddle up close with him as he falls asleep at night. I have often complained about being the only parent doing the bedtime routine (and its knock-on effect to my own freedom during the evenings - even the guilt or anxiety in leaving him if I do ever try to make plans), it is one of my favourite times of day, and it takes a lot to pull myself away; to attempt to write something coherent, after this - knowing that my time aligns with the sunrise, and not the sunset. Writing has already become something I’m often trying to steal time from elsewhere, to snatch little pockets of time here and there, and it all becomes very stressful (I’m literally writing this next to an iPad screen showing some famous cartoon dogs singing in a rock band, with my son’s feet pressed against my thigh). I just knew - I needed to start. Whatever that meant and however I could. The content of my Morning Pages themselves often switch between complaining about my home life / relationships, planning out my writing week, or generally philosophising on life - I was really unsure about what I was meant to be writing about at first, but I just let the stream come, no matter what the subject was - there are no rules here. It’s the best tool we have as writers, of talking to ourselves; and through that - learning how we speak and communicate, how we problem-solve, think, and generate new ideas - how we tap into our creativity.

For the Artist’s Date, I indulged in a trip to Brighton - something I had been yearning to do for so long, but which just wasn’t possible over the lockdown. Mainly, I wanted to get to The Feminist Bookshop (and this specificity helped my anxiety, to hold some purpose on this trip - which the ‘Date seems aimed at doing); I was clawing to purchase a book from a real bookshop, to support my local bricks and mortar, and to let myself indulge in perusing the shelves. I was joined by my partner, and the usual issues with the clunky ticket machines meant that we had to attempt running for the first Brighton train that pulled-up - something I just couldn’t compete with, with a facemask pushing its way into my mouth. Instead, we let it go and sat on the platform for the next twenty minutes, myself taking secret gasps of fresh air away from my mask as I tried to settle-in to this strange environment (it was a mostly empty platform, mostly outside - it felt uncomfortable to be reducing my fresh air intake). I calmed myself further by discovering a paper bag of dark chocolate buttons in my backpack, and popping them under my mask every now and then. The train journey itself was awkward - we stood up as there were not many spaces between people, and the continuous mild-threats about mandatory facemasks being relayed over the tannoy, were unnerving. It was one of the first times I had been able to really observe others during this whole crisis, and to not be able to see their entire faces just felt so disconnecting and strange. We left the ever-bustling Brighton station and delved straight into the North Laines - our first stop being Infinity Foods. I had been dreaming of the pleasure of a good farmer's market or farm shop (of local produce), and so I stood infront of the chilled fruit and vegetables a while, letting my body explore what was on offer. I marvelled at the earthy shiitake mushrooms, the beautiful deep green, glossy chard, and stopped to take a small handful of fresh apricots, fuzzy and firm. We went on to a few other shops, finally ending at The Feminist Bookshop - an unassuming front which opened into a light, well-stocked and exciting collection of some of the most groundbreaking authors. With the smell of fresh coffee edging around the shelves (TFB has seating indoors and out, to sit with a book and enjoy the space for a while), I travelled over the various sections, quickly realising that on almost every ledge stood books from my online wishlists - it was like walking into my own personal archive, for real. This quite thrilling realisation led me to take up a copy of Kae Tempest’s ‘On Connection’ (which I’ve mentioned before - how long I had waited to hold this book in my hands), and with the staff’s wonderful assistance, also located Rebecca Solnit’s latest ‘Recollections of My Non-Existence’. Like many of the experiences I have taken myself into over the last year or so, it really did feel like I was ‘home’ in that shop, and I cannot wait to return once a month, to sit amongst all of those voices and words. We had spent about two and a half hours in Brighton, so parental duty called before long and we were back on the train; standing by the doors as the train stopped at Portslade, Shoreham and Lancing, and gasping for fresh air with every door opening - hungry for it like a smoker might drag out nicotine, or a fish out of water.

There were three main tasks to complete inside the book this week, and for the majority, I struggled with them - the concepts being useful (i.e. to create a list of things you can do, when you’re feeling creatively stuck - they can even seem unrelated e.g. one of mine was to sort through some of the piles of clothes that line my bedroom, waiting to go to charity shops). I had spent some time in the prior two months doing a lot of unpicking of my resistance (which I will cover in a separate blog post) and so focused on the fact that this entire course, for me, was about dedicating myself, to my self and my work, creating habits, creating, and keeping myself accountable. The final task was the most difficult, and that was actually to ‘do nothing’ - so I laid on my bed with my eyes closed, with East Forest’s ‘Meditation for Chaotic Times’ playing through my headphones - repeatedly stopping to write notes on my phone, of ideas that were popping up. A mildly successful first attempt, though one I perhaps should not do alongside other journalling work - as it often does spark my creativity (I spent two hours working through the tasks in one block, as that's what suited my availability this week). I aim to come back to this task once a week if I can, and use it as a standalone tool. I loved how this tied-in to my current slow reading of Jenny Odell’s ‘How to Do Nothing’ and felt a mixture of pressure and relief that I was being asked to do less, instead of more - something I needed during a blog release, when I began to despair at finding the time to write as much as I had pressured myself to write. This week was the re-commencing of self-relationship, of finding my way back to myself again - and walking back to pickup the bones of my creativity.